Connecticut Audbon Society

125th Anniversary

Daily Bird nesting season special: Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager is among the forest birds you’ll see and hear at Deer Pond Farm, the Bafflin Preserve and many other Connecticut sanctuaries. Photo courtesy of Erica Seitz.

June 22, 2022

Scarlet Tanager
Piranga olivacea

by Andy Rzeznikiewicz, Connecticut Audubon sanctuary manager. Videos by Gilles Carter, Connecticut Audubon Board of Directors.

Scarlet Tanagers are a fairly common forest nesting bird in Connecticut. Most of the larger and many of the smaller forested areas of the state will have nesting pairs. They are mainly associated with oak forests but also look for them in other deciduous as well as mixed conifer forests.

About the size of a catbird or cardinal, the male Scarlet Tanager is  a brilliant, almost neon red with black wings. On occasion some males are orange instead of red; they are referred to as the Orange Variant Scarlet Tanager (one has nested in the past at the Bafflin preserve in Pomfret).

From mid to late August through the winter, the males lose their scarlet feathers and molt into a greenish yellow. The females are yellowish with brownish wings.

At this time of year they can be found by listening for their song call. Roger Tory Peterson described it as “suggesting a robin with a sore throat.” The “chik-burr” call note is also distinctive. They respond to “pishing” and seem to be curious about the sound. This will help you spot the bird in the dense forest canopy.

If you know of a mulberry tree, sit by it and watch all the activity as birds feed on the berries; Scarlet Tanagers are frequent visitors to those trees.

The Connecticut Audubon Society’s Chaney preserve in Montville, and Croft preserve in Goshen, have many nesting pairs. The Chaney preserve has a large trail system for easy access to the interior forest (Croft does not).

In fall, tanagers join mixed flocks and can be found in shrubland habitat, feeding in various berry bushes.

Conservation status: They considered of least concern, although in Connecticut their population has decreased by an estimated 65% over the last 50 years. Among the main threats they face are forest fragmentation due to development, and Brown-headed Cowbirds. Apparently their nests are frequently parasitized by cowbirds, and the Scarlet Tanager parents can’t tell the difference between their eggs and cowbird eggs.






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